Firsts for the Firs: Wednesday, 12th June 2019

Unfortunately, the weather seems to be dictating our schedule at the moment.  Today was scheduled to be at Blakehill Farm but, with winds forecast from the north, which would have been blowing our nets into the hedgerows, and the threat of rain, I decided to make up for the missed session at the Firs.  My team for the session comprised Ellie Jones and David Williams.  We were joined for the session by three strong supporters of the Trust: Jane, Hannah and George plus Rebecca from the Trust.  They spent the morning with us and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Thanks to Jane for the scrummy Pain-au-chocolat and Rebecca for the fabulous cookies and hot drinks,  We must do this more often!

The weather proved good for ringing: the wood blocked the breeze and the threatened rain never materialised. It stayed damp for a long time and was still unseasonably cold.  I was concerned, as I was on Sunday, as to what impact this wet and cold weather might have had on newly-fledged birds.  Early catches were all adult birds but as the morning wore on we began to catch some juvenile Chiffchaffs and, right at the end, some juvenile Blackcaps.

Back on the 8th August 2016 the first bird out of the nets was the first ever Spotted Flycatcher caught and ringed in the Braydon Forest.  That day virtually the last bird out of the nets was the second ever Spotted Flycatcher caught and ringed.  They were both juveniles, although not newly-fledged. So, although we were confident it indicated breeding in the Forest, we could not be 100% sure. This morning, the first bird out of the nets on our first round proper (a Wren and a Robin managed to blunder into our closed nets while we were setting up) was a Spotted Flycatcher. Excitingly, this was a female in full breeding condition with a well-developed brood patch.  All we needed was a male to turn up.  Not quite the last bird out of the net but, towards the end of the session, that is exactly what happened: an adult male in full breeding condition.

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When I first started ringing in the Firs, back in September 2012 it was a really poor site. My first three catches there totalled 39 birds: and that was with feeding stations set up.  It was overgrown, marshy and dark.  In the intervening years the Trust’s volunteers and staff have worked wonders improving the habitat: putting in a couple of ponds (I requested them in my first ever report, although I was told they were always planned, just they weren’t dug until I made my request), thinning the canopy, opening up the central glade and side rides. It really is a vastly improved place (it can still get very boggy though) – and it is the only Wildlife Trust site in the north of the county that has a decent, but small, fern bed.

We have always caught Blackcaps on the site but today we had a new bird for the Firs: a female Garden Warbler in full breeding condition.  It would be excellent if a population could become established in the opened areas of the reserve where the tree height now suits this species.

It wasn’t the biggest catch we have ever had there: we heard lots of Long-tailed Tits buzzing around and several Nuthatch calling in the wood but none found their way into the nets.  That is unusual: particularly with Long-tailed Tits. Their speciality is arriving en masse just when you have decided to pack up for the day. Not today.

Today’s list was (adult / not aged ringed [juvenile ringed] (recapture)): Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1; Wren (1); Spotted Flycatcher 2; Robin [1](1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird [3]; Blackcap 3[3](1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1[3](2).  Totals: 10 adults ringed from 7 species; 10 newly-fledged juveniles ringed from 4 species; 6 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 26 birds processed from 11 species.

The catch fell off very quickly after 10:00 and, after a couple of empty rounds, we closed the nets and packed away. With everybody mucking in to help, it was one of the quickest take-downs we have had. All in all, a very satisfying session.

CES 4: Lower Moor Farm, Sunday, 9th June 2019

After some 10 days of frustration, due to a combination of bad weather and illness, it was something of a relief to get out and get CES session 4 done today. With the weather looking decidedly unsettled for the next week, I knew that if we didn’t get it done today we might fail to carry it out at all. This is our fifth year of running the CES at Lower Moor Farm and I would be loathe to have to miss out one of the sessions. Fortunately, Sunday was scheduled to be dry and relatively calm and, apart from a few spots of rain at about 11:00 we had a clear morning.

I was on site for 4:00, joined by David at 4:30 and Ellie, who has been away, joined us a little later.  A little later in the morning we were joined by Abi Stayte, doing work experience at the Trust, and Rich Moore, a volunteer leader for the Trust who is looking at organising surveys and activities at the Trust’s newly acquired site: Morningside Farm.

The session started quite calmly, with 10 birds in the first round and each subsequent round was similar until about 10:00, when we caught a couple of tit flocks: primarily Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  That was a brief busy period.  It then settled down for another hour, until a couple of family groups of Great Tit turned up.

Prior to the session I did have concerns about whether the bad weather of the last few days would have adversely affected the catch, particularly the number of fledglings in the catch.  Fortunately, fledglings were the main part of the catch. We had young from the aforementioned Blue and Great Tits, plus our first juvenile Long-tailed Tits of the year. In addition we had a good number of Blackcaps, some very young Garden Warblers, plus Wrens, Robins, Dunnock and (my personal favourite of the morning) a very young Reed Bunting:

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The gape is still very obvious.

I am making a slight change to my listings for the time being.  It will now read: Species name Adults / Not-Aged Ringed [Juveniles Ringed] (Recaptured). The list for the morning was: Treecreeper [1]; Blue Tit 4[15](2); Great Tit [9](1); Long-tailed Tit 4[6](2); Wren 1[2]; Dunnock [1](1); Robin 2[4]; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Cetti’s Warbler (1); Blackcap 1[23](7); Garden Warbler [4](5); Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 1[2](3); Bullfinch (1); House Sparrow 1; Reed Bunting [1](1).  Totals: 15 adults ringed from 8 species; 68 juveniles ringed from 11 species; 26 birds recaptured from 12 species, making 109 birds processed from 17 species.

I mentioned in the last blog about how much more productive this year is proving to be. In the first three sessions of last year we processed 82 birds from 19 species, compared to 161 birds processed from 19 species this year.  However, session 4 last year was only 37 birds processed (24 ringed and 13 recaptured) from 14 species.  This really could turn out to be our best CES year this year.

*Having checked the figures, Sunday’s session was the largest CES catch we have had at Lower Moor Farm.  What is pleasing about this is that the other 100+ catches (5 of them) were all in August, when local birds are augmented by birds on passage.

 

More Fledglings: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 29th May 2019

This was CES session 3 – and a much better session than its corresponding session last year, when a measly 25 birds were recorded.  In the five years that we have been running the CES scheme at Lower Moor Farm, it is the first that had to be curtailed because of bad weather.  We knew there was potential for some rain, only it was expected to arrive at midday.  Instead it arrived at 10:30, forcing us to get the nets closed and away an hour early.  Jonny and I had arrived on site at 4:30, and had all of the nets open by 5:30.  We started catching straight away, but not in great numbers.  However, it was steady and, by the end of the session, we had caught 43 birds.  Ironically, the largest catch came just as we were rushing around to close the nets because of the rain closing in.  Later in the morning we were joined by Abi, getting work experience with the Trust, who is now keen to come out with us again to get more ringing experience.

It was a good catch.  The highlights were our first juvenile Blackcaps and Great Tits of the year, plus another few newly-fledged Blue Tits and Dunnocks.

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The list for the day was: Blue Tit 3(1); Great Tit 8(1); Wren (2); Dunnock 3; Robin 4; Blackbird (2); Cetti’s Warbler (1); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 3(2); Garden Warbler (3); Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 2(1); Willow Warbler (1); Bullfinch 1; House Sparrow 1; Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 29 birds ringed from 11 species; 14 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 43 birds processed from 16 species.

It really is turning out to be the earliest breeding season I can remember. In the period 27th to the 29th May, in addition to the birds blogged about on my visits, team members have also caught newly-fledged juveniles of Starling (Warminster area), Wren, Long-tailed Tit and Chaffinch (Chippenham area).

Once we had packed up Jonny and I headed off to Blakehill Farm to ring the Jackdaw chicks holed up in the bug hotel at the Whitworth Building on the site.  I have been monitoring the progress over the last few weeks from when there were four, then five, warm eggs.  All hatched and, when I last looked 10 days ago, there were five healthy but blind and featherless pulli in the nest.  This was the perfect time to ring them: they would be feathered and just developing their primary flight feathers but not so advanced that they would try to explode away from the nest.  The first indication that everything was not as it should be was the lack of adult activity at the nest site.  Okay, they could have been away foraging for food for the young but when we checked the nest cavity there was no sign the chicks had ever been there.  It would seem that they have been predated – there is chance that they have fledged already. Given that they were a good size even when first seen as young I can only think it was either Carrion Crow or, possibly, Raven or even Stoat. Who knows because, until we looked, nobody at the Trust knew they were no longer there.  It was disappointing finale to a decent morning’s work.

Fledglings Galore: Ravensroost Woods, Saturday, 25th May 2019

This was our regular monthly session at Ravensroost Woods, and it turned out to be a cracker.   I was joined by Ellie and Jonny.  We met up at 4:30 and set nets up in the wood along the main path north of the bridle path, plus along one newly reopened ride (the nets are in yellow, the red star is the ringing station):

Ravensroost

It did not start auspiciously: with very few birds in the nets before 7:30. The weather was cold and quite misty to start, the sun eventually broke through and warmed the air.  Only after that did the birds start moving. However, the whole session was a mixture of good catches and near blanks.

We started with a Blackbird, then a couple of Blackcaps, but at 7:30 we found a net full of ten newly-fledged Blue Tits plus two adults.  At first we thought it might be a large family group, but the two adults turned out both to be male.

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The routine reverted to small catches of a couple of birds, interestingly we caught a couple of newly-fledged Coal Tits, more of which later.  At 10:00 we had another good catch: this time it included an additional eight newly-fledged Coal Tits.

The ringing station was set close to the gates south of the bridle path. It was a good place to meet people and we had a very pleasant morning chatting to the horse riders coming along the bridle path and visitors to the reserve.  One family, granny, dad and young son, plus two lovely dogs, stayed with us for a while to watch us process the birds. In return, we showed them how to safely hold and release a few birds.  They had the experience of seeing the loudest bird in the wood extracted and processed: a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The list for the session was: Woodpigeon 1; Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 16(2); Great Tit 2(3); Coal Tit 11(1); Robin 2; Blackbird 3(2); Blackcap 3(1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 2.  43 birds ringed from 11 species; 9 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 52 birds processed from 11 species.  Of the birds processed 10 each of the ringed Blue and Coal Tits were newly-fledged young, as was one of the Robins.

Ellie’s highlight was the chance to process her first Woodpigeon, coupled with the fact that I took it out of the bag and was the one who was bombed by copious amounts of pigeon guano.

Unusually, the real highlights of the day were the Blue and Coal Tits.  I could not remember ever catching newly-fledged young of these species so early in the year at this site, so I went onto the BTO’s database to check.  Not only are these the earliest we have ever caught them at this site, but it is the earliest that anybody in our group has ever caught them since the group’s records were digitised (I went back nearly 20 years).

This then made me think about the Chiffchaff caught at Lower Moor Farm last Saturday, so I checked the records for them as well.  Again, that is the earliest record we have ever had for a newly-fledged juvenile of that species. I have no idea why this is the case, but it is certainly interesting.

Ravensroost Meadow Pond: Wednesday, 22nd May 2019

As today promised to be bright and sunny I decided to change from my scheduled venue of Red Lodge to the meadow pond area at Ravensroost.  Jonny and I set up a few nets along the edge of the pond area, one across the causeway and one on the small spit.  We did it for a couple of reasons: hoping we might catch a Swallow / House Martin or two (failed), or a Lesser Whitethroat (succeeded), as we haven’t caught any so far this year.
ravens pond
Whilst we were setting up we heard a male cuckoo calling.  We got some fantastic views of the male, but didn’t manage to persuade him into the net.
We caught birds between 6:00 and 10:00 and then it died a death – but it was a reasonable size catch with good variety: Blue Tit 2(3); Wren 1; Dunnock 2(1); Robin 2; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 2; Garden Warbler 3; Whitethroat 5; Lesser Whitethroat 5; Willow Warbler 2(1); Goldfinch 1; House Sparrow 1; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 28 birds ringed from 13 species; 5 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 33 birds processed from 13 species.
We caught one each of juvenile Robin and Dunnock. Encouragingly, two each of the Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat; one each of the Garden Warbler and the Willow Warbler, plus the Goldfinch and Reed Bunting were females with well-developed brood patches. These birds are definitely breeding in the area of the meadow pond.
Perhaps the oddest catch of the day was the House Sparrow.  Presumably it has come down the road from the stables or the house at the crossroads, possibly from the barns in Avis Meadows – but I have never seen sign of them there.  Anyway, it is a first for us in the Ravensroost complex.
We were packed up and away by 11:30.  On Saturday we will be back at Ravensroost: in the woods this time.  I am hoping that there will be some newly-fledged Marsh Tits around, as I have heard that the young have fledged from some monitored nests on the border of East Anglia.

Fledglings Arrive: CES 2: Lower Moor Farm, Saturday, 18th May 2019.

This session was carried out in almost perfect weather conditions for ringing. It was overcast and windless.  The only problem was that the base temperature was unseasonably cold for the time of year, which tends to suppress the insect activity, which has a knock-on effect on the activity of the birds.  I was helped in the session by Jonny Cooper and Ellie Jones and we were joined by Tim Jukes.  Tim is a volunteer working with Jonny on his Braydon Forest Curlew Project and expressed an interest in finding out about ringing.

This year’s CES is shaping up to reverse the declining trend of the last few years. In each session so far this year we have processed 59 birds, compared to 31 birds processed in session 1, 2018 and 26 birds processed in session 2.  There were plenty of highlights in this catch: a juvenile Song Thrush, our first newly-fledged Robins of the year (five of them) plus our first newly-fledged Chiffchaff:

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I know this a serious blog – but isn’t that just so cute?  We also caught a Dunnock that was fresh out of the nest.  Perhaps the most encouraging catch of the morning was a female Cetti’s Warbler with a well-developed brood patch.

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After an excellent year in 2015, with several youngsters ringed, we have had very few Cetti’s caught – and those we have caught have been males on territory. We caught a male earlier in the year, and have heard singing at every session this Spring. however, this is the first female that we have caught since 2015.  I am hopeful that we will get proof of breeding and some fledglings in the next month or so.

The list for today was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit (2); Wren (3); Dunnock 2(5); Robin 5(3); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird (3); Cetti’s Warbler 1; Blackcap 2(5); Garden Warbler (3); Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 1(5); Willow Warbler 1(3); Bullfinch 4; House Sparrow 3; Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 25 birds ringed from 12 species; 34 birds recaptured from 11 species, making 59 birds processed from 17 species.

 

Tedworth House: Wednesday, 15th May 2019

Before getting into the session at Tedworth House today I am going to say a few things about the Breeding Bird Survey I carried out yesterday.  For the last six years I have been carrying out the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey at Brown’s Farm, just south of Marlborough.   As readers of the blog know, I also ring at this site, and did so quite recently.  The difference between ringing the site and doing a breeding bird survey is in the amount of ground you cover.  For BBS I walk two 1 km transects, 1 km apart, recording the birds I see and hear in 10 x 200 metre zones and noting their distance from the track that I walk.  There are 3 zones: <25m; 25m – 100m and >100m.

Whilst in our last ringing session there we caught 4 Linnet, 6 Whitethroat and 5 Yellowhammer: during my walk yesterday I noted over 40 Linnet; 20 Whitethroat and 30 Yellowhammer along the hedgerows.  I was also lucky to see half-a-dozen Hares and had my closest ever encounter with this enigmatic mammal. Half way through the survey I stopped for coffee, sitting on a low bank at the edge of a field.  Two Hares came running up the path towards me, they stopped and a bit of boxing ensued. They then ran on further and sat no more than 5 metres from my position. We “shared a moment” for three minutes before they moved off in different directions.

To Tedworth House.  It was a quiet session, carried out to a background of the constant chatter of the Raven chicks and their parents. They have been fledged for a while now but are clearly still hanging around as a family.  Although I didn’t catch huge numbers of birds, it was quite interesting nonetheless.

The highlight had to be my first Magpie since October 2016.  Of the 15 Magpies caught by the Group since 1st January 2013, 6 of them have been caught at Tedworth House.  The list for the day was: Magpie 1; Nuthatch (2); Blue Tit 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 5(2); Blackcap 3(1); Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch 2.  Totals: 14 birds ringed from 7 species; 5 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 19 birds ringed from 8 species.

The number of Blackbirds was remarkable. One was a juvenile from this year; 4 were second year birds and the two recaptured birds were full adults.  I was joined by several keen observers during the day.  Two were absolutely delighted to be shown how to safely hold and release a Goldfinch and Blackbird respectively.

As the temperature rose, the bird activity fell and I closed the nets at 11:30, after a couple of empty rounds.  The session finished on a bit of a high when Jack, the maintenance man for Tedworth House and expert nest finder, showed me a Goldcrest nest in a fir tree overhanging the children’s play area.